San Diego County

Restaurants Trying to Recoup What's Lost With Return of On-Site Dining

San Diego County said Wednesday it would suspend "enforcement activities" on restaurants and live entertainment centers as it seeks "clarity" on a judge's decision

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NBC 7’s Dave Summers reports from Little Italy where many restaurants have reopened indoor and outdoor dining.

Some San Diego restaurants began reopening their doors Thursday after the county said it would stop enforcing pandemic-related restrictions at restaurants, for now, as it seeks “clarity” on a judge’s ruling that allows restaurants to serve customers on site.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” said Jeff Kacha, owner of longtime North Park eatery Rudford’s Restaurant. “Then, my lawyer called me about 10 minutes after a judge made this order and told me you can go ahead, open indoor and outdoor.”

The county’s decision Wednesday to suspend “enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments” came after San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s ruling to allow Pacers International Showgirls and Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club to remain open.

It was at first unclear if the injunction extended beyond the two clubs to potentially all restaurants in San Diego County, and Judge Wohlfeil's confirmed as much during a virtual hearing Thursday, saying "All businesses that provide restaurant service are encompassed within the court order."

Governor Gavin Newsom appealed the ruling Thursday as expected. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session Friday to determine their next steps.

"Also, as of this moment, county will NOT enforce public health orders [at restaurants] until the matter is settled," a county spokesperson said.

Some San Diego restaurants have reopened for indoor and outdoor dining after a surprise ruling from a county judge that has the region seeking clarity.

Kacha told NBC 7 that under the county’s temporary suspension of restaurant closures, his restaurant will be open for indoor and outdoor use while his employees follow and mandate COVID-19 health guidance.

“Here, at the restaurant, guess what? When you come in, you got a mask, you’re going to sit right down, you’re divided,” he said of the safety protocols that will be in place at Rudford’s. “We are social distancing, you can take your mask off with the person you came in with and it’s over. You can dine.”

One patron said she was glad that the ruling allows residents to support restaurants in ways beyond take-out.

San Diego County said that while it “seeks clarity” from the court on a judge’s ruling to allow two local strip clubs to remain open, it announced it will suspend closure coronavirus enforcements.

“I’m happy that we can eat outside and we can support the restaurant…so I want to be able to come here, to support the restaurant and be happy that people can work,” said Imelda White.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the city is also working with the state and county to analyze Judge Wohlfeil's ruling.

"No one wants our small businesses to be closed, but the science and data are showing a dire trend in hospitalizations and deaths. Over 1,200 have died in San Diego County and the ICU capacity in Southern California has dropped to zero," Mayor Glroia's statement read in part.

Gloria went on to ask San Diegans to stay home as much as possible and order food to-go.

There was a mix of indoor and outdoor dining in Little Italy Thursday night, as restaurant owners tried to balance the opportunity to make up for losses suffered while they were restricted to to-go service and their desire to keep their patrons safe.

"We are back open. As you can see a lot of customers are back. There is a good support from the community so we are hoping it is going to be a really busy end of this year," Danijela Dostanic, general manager at Buon Apetito, said.

"One of the best seasons absolutely of the year, so yeah, we have to take advantage of that," owner Palo Tagliani added.

The scene on India Street hadn't looked that way since before the governor's stay-at-home order was put in place earlier this month.

Dostanic said her restaurant is keeping dining outside for now.

"We want to keep everybody safe. Customers and employee," she said.

Across the way, though, Princess Pub and Grille had customers seated outside, inside and even at the bar.

Brian Glow was in the neighborhood Thursday night and ahd an empty stomach, but he was expecting to take food to-go.

"Right now, considering the facts of everything, it is smart we should stay at home. Be cautious, be safe," he said.

San Diego County restaurants had only been able to offer pickup or delivery service since Dec. 7 due to the regional stay-at-home order imposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, which called for a temporary halt to indoor and outdoor dining.

The stay-at-home order and its restrictions -- which are in place until at least Dec. 28 -- also temporarily halt indoor service at gyms, churches, salons, and museums.